When Mark Zuckerberg first launched Facebook in 2004, the digital world looked very different. Less than 2% of people worldwide owned smartphones, social networking was still considered a new phenomenon, and the nascent site’s main competitors were MySpace, Friendster, and Bebo. Since then, much has changed regarding the potential of Facebook for schools.
Within five years, Facebook had blown all of these companies out of the water, and even former MySpace CEO Mike Jones commented that they had ‘perfected’ the social media experience. Over the years, new competitors such as Twitter and Snapchat have emerged, but Facebook has always adapted to stay relevant, modifying its platform and introducing new features to stave off potential threats and keep its audience growing. The company even acquired some of its would-be competitors, most notably Instagram and WhatsApp.
However, this continued evolution can create challenges for schools. Tried and tested tactics can cease to have the impact they once did as the years go by, while increased competition and limited organic reach has resulted in a crowded marketplace with fewer and fewer windows of opportunity to stand out.
If you feel like your school’s Facebook marketing has been standing still, here are some ways to get it moving again.
1. A Little Housekeeping on Your School’s Facebook Page can go a Long Way
One simple way to improve your presence on Facebook is to do a little housekeeping on your school’s profile page. Many institutions build their social media strategies mainly around creating new posts for their feeds, and can often neglect some basic components of their pages as a result.
This can be a costly mistake. Your profile page is often your chance to make a first impression on prospective students, and you want it be the best reflection of your school possible. Old images, out of date information, and a general appearance of a lack of activity can all make your school’s Facebook page seem unprofessional and unmaintained. Facebook is also constantly adding features and options to its business page layout which schools can capitalize on to make their profiles more engaging.
Small details can make a big difference. For instance, one thing that HEM finds when working with schools of all kinds is that very few of them change their cover image on a regular basis, and some don’t even have one at all. This space is a great opportunity to post fresh imagery, videos, and even promote upcoming events or programs.
Example: Rhodes Wellness College often uses its cover photo to promote upcoming recruitment events. This image was used to advertise an open house earlier this year.
Cover images can also be rotated depending on time of year. For instance, your school could use a graduation photo as the academic year ends, or create a holiday themed image for December.
Example: The University of Toronto created a special cover image to welcome students back to school in September.
Another part of their Facebook profiles schools often fail to capitalize on is the About Us section. While some schools will stop at a short description of their services, this section actually includes a host of fields that can be used to convey a great impression of your institution and generate engagement, such as:
Story– This section appears on the right hand side of your About page, and can be used to provide a short overview of your school, its history, and its philosophy. You can add a specific image and title to your Story, meaning schools have plenty of room to get creative.
Example: Newcastle University makes good use of the Story section on its Facebook page.
Business Info-Your school can add a number of pertinent details to this section, including when it was founded, practical information about pricing and parking, and a short mission statement.
Example: The University of Michigan includes a short mission statement outlining its aims in its business info section.
Contact Details– Your school can use this to add your phone, website and email information, as well as a link to your Messenger account and any other related Facebook pages you might have.
Example: Russian language school Liden and Denz uses the more info section of its Facebook page to list some of the awards it has won over the years, as well as an overview of its programs and courses.
Milestones– Allows you to highlight important moments in your school’s history, which can be liked and commented on by Facebook users.
Example: The University of Bristol has compiled a comprehensive list of the school’s achievements and historic moments in its milestones section.
You should also update your location details, and ensure that your school is identified in Facebook Places. This is especially crucial as it allows Facebook users to submit reviews and recommendations of your school on the site, which are becoming an increasingly important component of online marketing.
Example: International House Dublin has attracted 277 reviews on Facebook, with an average of 4.8 out of 5. As you can see, review information is now placed prominently on Facebook pages, so it is important for schools to do whatever they can to attract good reviews.
You should also make sure that your Facebook page provides a link to your website, as well as any other social media accounts you have on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. In addition, you should make use of the button that Facebook allows you to place directly under your cover image to create a CTA that links to your website, another of your social channels, or a landing page.
Example: The University of Glasgow makes an interesting choice with the main CTA of its Facebook page, directing users to the school’s Facebook Group. Groups are becoming an increasingly popular method of reaching followers on Facebook for schools, due to the prominence the site affords them in both its News Feed and user notifications.
2. Facebook for Schools: Paid Advertising is Now Essential
Much has been made of Facebook’s throttling of organic reach over the last few years. The decline began in 2015, and has steadily continued since. This data showing the organic reach of Asia Pacific clients working with marketing agency Bonsey Jaden serves as a good illustration of the descent:
Many commentators have criticized the company for this, accusing them of purposefully limiting the organic return of businesses on the site in order to force them into investing in paid advertising. However, more and more experts are coming around to the idea that the criticism may be somewhat overstated. As the site has grown, practically every business in every industry has set up its own Facebook account, and this has led to an increasingly crowded marketplace which is often at a detriment to users who mainly log on to see content from their families and friends.
Mark Zuckerburg himself commented that “recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” Given Facebook has previously lost users to platforms with less ads and brand presence like Snapchat, it stands to reason that they need to keep their audience happy.
Wherever you stand on the issue, though, the fact is that Facebook advertising and paid posts are now almost a necessity in Facebook marketing for schools. This doesn’t necessarily have to be bad thing; in many ways, Facebook’s advertising options give schools an opportunity to ensure that the time and money they invest on creating content for the site is used wisely.
For a start, the targeting options offered are arguably the most comprehensive on the web, and the cost per click is generally quite low. The range of formats, which include video, photo and slideshow ads, as well as more specialized options like Stories, also allows your school to get creative with your advertising in way that is not possible on other online ad platforms.
Example: A good Facebook ad like this one for Trebas Toronto can utilize text, striking visuals, and a CTA in order to increase your chances of engaging with prospective students.
What’s more, in the early days of Facebook many businesses, including schools, spent a lot of time chasing likes and followers. While this engagement can help your general reach, it doesn’t always translate to an increase in inquiries from prospective students. Focusing more on Facebook ads gives schools an opportunity to use the site and its audience in a way that will generate more tangible, measurable results.
3. Facebook Live can Make a Valuable Addition to Your Marketing Mix
Less than two years after its launch, Facebook Live has quickly become a must for schools looking to reach prospective students. Attracting over 2 billion views, it has become the web’s most popular livestreaming platform, easily surpassing rivals like Snapchat and Periscope despite entering the market later.
Facebook Live can be a great way for schools to host Q&A sessions, live campus tours, or go behind the scenes at events. The opportunities it offers for real-time engagement with your followers can be quite valuable, and many schools have found it to be a natural and effective fit for their social media marketing needs.
Example: New York University posted this livestream of a press conference it hosted with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer, attracting over 2,800 views.
Another interesting point to note about Facebook Live is that much of its growth has been very much driven by the social media giant itself aggressively pushing the format. When it was first launched, the site gave users notifications every time a friend or page they followed was going live, and is said to have given live posts priority within its News Feed algorithm, too.
These tactics aren’t new for Facebook. They often go to great lengths to highlight new features they believe will become popular (especially those that will help them gain ground on their competitors), and they tend to reward brands and users who make use of them in their posts.
Schools that pay close attention to new additions the site rolls out and become early adopters could therefore stand to gain large boosts in their organic reach, something which is increasingly hard to come by on the platform these days.
4. Facebook Stories Could be the Next Big Marketing Trend for Schools
With that in mind, it’s probably worth looking at Facebook Stories. This feature was rolled out on the site in March 2017, and is essentially a copy of the Instagram Stories feature, which itself closely resembles Snapchat Stories.
However, while the growth of Instagram Stories has been simply phenomenal, Facebook’s own version of the feature got off to a slow start. While they initially did not release any figures, public perception and expert opinion was that Stories was generally not being used very often on the site.
However, that appears to have begun to change over the course of 2018. Merging it with Messenger Day, the messaging app’s version of the feature, certainly helped, and as of September the company reported that Facebook Stories now has 300 million Daily Active users. This puts it behind its other versions of the feature on Instagram and WhatsApp, but the numbers are still healthy:
As the company continues to try and make Stories more popular, it will likely become more important to include it in your Facebook mix. Fortunately, Stories happen to be a good fit for schools, and many institutions have created fun, compelling slideshows around events, programs, and even just the daily-goings on of campus life.
Example: The University of Michigan created this Story on Facebook about a business founded by two of its alumni in the state.
Two U-M alumni are helping provide the community with fresh local food and helping farmers see a greater profit on their sales at the same time, at their market, the Argus Farm Stop. #UMichImpact myumi.ch/LolQd
Posted by University of Michigan on Thursday, November 1, 2018
The site launched ads on its Stories platform in September, too. Stories ads have been shown to have great success on Instagram, and could be an excellent option for schools looking for more targeted lead generation opportunities.
Facebook has also made moves to differentiate its version of Stories from those of the other social networks in its stable. One of the most unique features is the collaborative Stories option offered for Groups and Events. This allows any user attending an event or in a Facebook Group to add their own content to a single overall Story, which is moderated by the event or group admins.
For schools, this feature has tremendous potential. Imagine, for instance, a story of an open day featuring contributions added in real-time by prospective students in attendance. Or a continuous story in an alumni group, in which group members can share their progress and successes after graduation. If used well, the feature has the potential to be a kind of user generated content that feels completely new, fresh, and interactive.
Check out this video to get a look at what Event Stories are like:
5. 360 Visuals are an Exciting New Way to Present Your School on Facebook
360 photos and videos are another relatively new feature that can make a great addition to Facebook marketing campaigns for schools. Introduced in late 2015, 360 content has really started to gain traction recently as more people have begun investing in the technology. 360 content is a great way to present visuals from events or shine a spotlight on your campus and location in a unique way that will differentiate your school from its competitors.
Example: Texas A&M University created an excellent 360 hyperlapse video on the first day of its spring classes.
It was a chilly and successful first day of class!See for yourself & look around this 360° video featuring scenes from around campus!
Posted by Texas A&M University on Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Best of all, it can be used for both organic posts and advertising, meaning a well-made 360 visual can be repurposed again and again to drive engagement through both avenues. 360 is also available as a format in Facebook Live, where it can provide a particularly immersive experience.
Example: The University of Greenwich created a live 360 video during a campus open day earlier this year.
The effectiveness of 360 content has been shown across all platforms, particularly when it comes to advertising. These statistics from Omnivirt show massive gains in engagement and ROI when compared to traditional ads:
Interestingly, the improvement is more pronounced when it comes to photos than videos, although other studies have further emphasized the value of 360 video. Magnifyre, for example, found that the average Cost per Mille (CPM) of impressions was significantly lower for 360 than regular video ads, while views were 28% higher.
The downside of 360 content is that shooting it requires special cameras, which can be expensive to hire or purchase. Schools will therefore need to think carefully about just how worthwhile an investment this equipment is, and it might be an idea for your team to brainstorm ideas about what they could present in 360 before committing to it. Nonetheless, if you see the potential for a large amount of visually pleasing, immersive posts that could be rendered in 360, the technology could end up paying for itself.
6. Freshen up Your School’s Facebook Posting Strategy
While taking advantage of new Facebook features and options is all well and good, it can also be important to review your actual content creation approach, and the language and tone you take in your posts. This way, Facebook post ideas for schools can avoid becoming stale and clichéd, generating a stronger impact.
This slide from marketing company The Orchard gives a handy if somewhat subjective illustration of what is currently being well-received on the platform and what isn’t:
There a couple of interesting things to note from this. First, the use of native video content – content using Facebook’s own video platform rather than linking to others such as YouTube – is one that may become increasingly important. While it accommodates its videos, Facebook still sees YouTube as a competitor, and is said to prioritize its own native video content in its News Feed algorithm as a way to eat away at YouTube’s market share. Simply reformatting your YouTube videos for Facebook could result in a quick boost in reach.
Example: The University of Salford posts videos using Facebook’s native platform. This one attracted over 4,500 views.
Your university experience is about so much more than lectures. We offer a dynamic learning environment, a location 10 minutes from Manchester, and amazing on-campus facilities. Watch a day in the life of Salford students.
Posted by The University of Salford on Wednesday, April 25, 2018
The other important point relates more to the actual substance of your content. The key takeaway here is that those who offer content that has real value are likely to be the big winners on Facebook in the long-term, as the site works to deliver a more satisfying user experience. This is why elements that add value such as links, news, and tagging relevant pages are becoming more important, while overly promotional approaches and attempts to game the system such as ‘Likebait’ posts are less effective than before. This is supported by research from Sprout Social, which shows some of the biggest annoyances users have about brands:
As you can see, overtly promotional content is among the biggest turn-offs for Facebook users. In addition, while they expect brands to have some personality, users dislike failed attempts at humour and the use of slang and jargon, something schools should be mindful of when considering the tone of their posts.
With this information in mind, schools should approach Facebook in the same way it is recommended to approach other kinds of education marketing content in the modern digital marketing landscape – with a focus on real value, relevance, and trustworthiness. Do that, and you won’t go too far wrong.